Insights From the ABPI Annual Conference 2023

4th May 2023 by Laura Higgins

We attended the ABPI’s annual conference on April 27th, 2023. The event covered key themes such as the UK's potential to become a global life science powerhouse, improving the health and productivity of the UK population, and the role of the government in industry decision-making. Speakers and panellists, including UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Steve Barclay, emphasised the importance of innovation, industry collaboration and need to deliver effective care for all.


On April 27th 2023, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) hosted their annual conference, which featured our medDigital team among its exhibitors. This highly regarded annual event focused on key themes such as the UK's potential to become a powerhouse in the global pharmaceutical ecosystem, the importance of research and development pursuits, and the role of government in industry decision-making.

ABPI Chief Executive, Richard Torbett, and UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, provided welcome messages that reinforced the concept of the UK as a technological superpower, and the potential we hold to develop a thriving and dynamic life sciences sector.


Session 1: Research and Development as an Engine for Growth

The first session, "R&D as an Engine for Growth," was chaired by Russell Abberley, General Manager UK/Ireland for Amgen, and featured notable speakers, including Cancer Research UK's Catherine Elliot, Jill Richardson from MSD, Jonathan Pearce from the Medical Research Council, and Simon Denegri from the Academy of Medical Sciences (AMS). The discussions were centred around the importance of research as a pillar of the NHS, and how R&D must evolve to meet the UK government's life sciences ambitions, with a specific focus on fostering partnerships between industry, academia, and patient voices. The areas with the greatest potential for significant impact included: research into preventative treatments (e.g., obesity and tobacco use), reducing hurdles in setting up trials, recruiting more talented scientists, and supporting NHS leaders in creating centres of excellence, therefore providing more opportunities for patients to be involved in research. 

Keynote speaker and Shadow Secretary of State for Business and Industrial Strategy, Jonathan Reynolds MP, emphasised the significance of the relationship between business and government in unlocking the potential of the life sciences sector. He also stressed the need for stability in governmental frameworks to ensure that businesses in the life science sphere can continue to thrive.


Session 2: Improving the Health and Productivity of the Whole of the UK

During Session 2, Simon Newton of Jazz Pharmaceuticals, led a panel focusing on a central matter – improving the health and productivity of the entire UK population. Expert panellists included Sharmila Nebhrajani (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence - NICE), Sarah Woolnough (Asthma + Lung UK), Sally Lewis (Swansea School of Medicine), and David Lowe (Scottish Health Industry Partnership). Speakers all emphasised the importance of tailoring healthcare delivery to meet patients' specific needs.

They also flagged the need for greater flexibility in the healthcare system, allowing patients to be seamlessly onboarded onto new treatments, and continuously improving their experiences via patient reported outcomes. Research carried out by the ABPI showed that substantially greater groups of patients are supported, and consequently productivity gained, in areas where more treatments are used in line with NICE guidance.

NICE representatives discussed several ongoing initiatives which aim to improve the appraisal process and accelerate the speed of adoption; however, clinicians need sufficient headspace to implement new pathways successfully. There is an opportunity for governing bodies to work in partnership with academic centres to free up capacity. The panel also highlighted the importance of data that pharma can provide for horizon scanning, as well as PROMs that sit outside the formal regulatory or NICE requirements, but which drive insight and change.

This key discussion highlighted the need for the healthcare industry to continue innovating to provide more efficient, personalised, and effective care for all.

Session 3: Building the UK’s Global Strengths

In Session 3, an expert panel comprising of June Raine from the MHRA, Mark Effingham of UK Biobank, Nathalie Kingston from NIHR BioResource, and Roz Campion from the Office for Life Sciences (OLS) and chaired by the ABPI’s Amit Aggarwal, came together to discuss the impressive array of life science assets and infrastructure available in the UK, making it an attractive destination for global investment. These include the UK Biobank which currently holds 15 years’ worth of health outcomes data and can create large case control cohorts. The NIHR are also taking a more targeted approach to research in areas of unmet need, such as in rare diseases and working with Genomics England.

The experts highlighted the need for greater awareness of these resources and their potential applications, calling for collaboration across all sectors, including investors, regulators, and implementers, to maximise their impact. They also explored the challenges of bringing smaller companies into the UK, and the important role of regulators in supporting the industry to deliver on the opportunities presented by Brexit.

The session closed with an interview with John Stewart, the National Director of Specialised Commissioning, NHS England, who reaffirmed the NHS's commitment to advancing innovation and enhancing patient outcomes through UK-based research and development.

Stewart acknowledged areas for improvement, noting that the speed for launch of new treatments in the UK is half that of European average. However, he also emphasised the UK's strengths, particularly NHS involvement in enabling access to Car-T therapies; medicines adoption in hepatitis C, cystic fibrosis and HIV; increasing awareness around antimicrobial resistance; and innovation in rare disease treatments, which affect approximately 1 in 17 UK citizens.

The conference culminated with a Keynote speech delivered by Steve Barclay, the UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. Barclay echoed the significance of nurturing “people, partnerships and processes”, which align with the underlying themes of the conference; fostering the growth of the UK as a global hub for innovation, and the necessity for companies to invest in UK clinical trials to sustain growth. His address encapsulated the importance of collaboration between industry and the government to shape policy and improve patient outcomes.

Overall, the ABPI's annual conference was deeply insightful, with industry leaders and government representatives engaging in meaningful discussions around supporting the UK's vision as a global leader in the life sciences sector. The event effectively demonstrated the potential for collaboration between government and industry to drive innovation, shape policies and ultimately enhance patient outcomes.

We feel that the next ABPI conference will be a great forum to share best practice examples of where change is already being made, to inspire even greater steps towards this vision.